Last Wednesday evening, residents, elected officials and advocates gathered in Jackson Heights to talk about a topic close to the heart of the diverse community: immigration.
Just a couple of weeks after Gov. Cuomo excluded the DREAM Act from the state budget and also mere days after Mayor de Blasio declared New York City to be among those standing by President Obama’s executive orders on immigration, a forum aimed at answering residents’ questions also focused on fraud issues.
The president seeks to open the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to more people and create a new program, Deferred Action for Parental Accountability.
Rosanna Eugenio, an attorney with CUNY Citizenship Now, which has had four recent events where it’s consulted with undocumented immigrants who want to be ready with paperwork the moment Obama’s expansion and establishment of DACA and DAPA takes effect, said it’s essential to use reputable legal services.
“I just want to point out the nightmare cases that we have seen where you can clearly see where people have been taken advantage of … it’s sad and it’s frustrating,” Eugenio said.
Discussions revolved around protecting those eagerly preparing for a chance at documented status and cautioning them to do it right.
“If you need help in your immigration cases, go to the right person.
Don’t go to somebody who is not authorized to help you,” said Allen Kaye of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which helps individuals avoid immigration scams.
He said if people have been ripped off they should consult the state Attorney General’s Office, for which he once testified in dismantling a company that preyed on undocumented immigrants for years.
Kaye added that the city Bar Association is a good place to find a reputable lawyer.
“People need to check before they write a cheque,” said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens), who co-hosted the event. He added that people are often scammed by those in their own communities.
Amit Bagga, deputy commissioner of the city Department of Consumer Affairs, said the agency can investigate immigration fraud cases.
Following the forum, a spokesperson for the DCA said that while the department cannot assess the quality of an immigration application, it does inspect for some required disclosures on signage and in contracts.
“In instances of suspected fraud, [DCA] works with the Attorney General’s Office to investigate,” the spokesperson said.
Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) also sponsored the event, which united 10 panelists from organizations that offer free legal advice or services such as the Queens Community House, Catholic Migration, Make the Road NY and Emerald Isle.
Questions from the audience revealed the complexity of the legal residency and citizenship process and ranged from uniting families to paid sick leave.
Moya said Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights and Corona is an “epicenter” for cases of fraud targeting undocumented individuals.
As hopeful undocumented immigrants look toward Obama’s executive orders being put through, Crowley asserted that there still needs to be an immigration reform law permanently establishing the programs.
“An executive order is no substitute for legislation,” Crowley said, acknowledging how Obama’s order could be overturned by future presidents if not codified into a law.
But he added later that he’s skeptical a law could be passed before Obama leaves office.
Moya also spoke about the DREAM Act and advocates’ new push to drum up support outside of legislative contention in Albany.
“I believe in the story of immigrants,” said Moya, whose father immigrated to the United States from Ecuador and served in the Vietnam War before establishing roots in Corona.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, was also present.
“A state like Texas — Republican-controlled Texas, conservative state Texas — has a Dream Act,” Peralta said. “And yet, a liberal state like New York, we’re so so far behind.”
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